(MOBILE, Ala.) - You may have heard of the product 'lean finely textured beef', but you probably know it better by a different name: pink slime. It's the beef-based filler used in foods we eat every day, from hamburger patties to frozen foods, and it's come under fire in recent months for what's in it and how it's made.
"It can consist of anything like the muscle fibers, the muscle tendons, they will actually scrape the bone to get all the waste off of it," says registered dietitian Cindy Waldrop. "They then take it and soak it in ammonia to kill the salmonella and e-coli."
Until recently LFTB was used almost universally, everywhere from McDonald's to the supermarket, and even where you'd least expect it - your child's cafeteria.
"It's been in there for years and years," says Suzanne Yates.
Yates is the Food Service Director for Mobile County Schools. She says the school district has no way to tell if there's LFTB in the beef they receive from the USDA.
"We really don't know if it is contained in the beef or not," Yates says. "They don't have to disclose it on the labeling."
The USDA and the American Meat Institute stand by the product, saying it's completely safe for consumers.
Public schools get a portion of their beef from the USDA. It comes at a low cost and is an ingredient in school meals like Salisbury steak and hamburger patties.
Six-and-a-half million pounds of that USDA product came from BPI--that's the company that produces LFTB. It was distributed to schools all over the country. In a letter to local districts, the state tells schools "where that went, we do not know at this time".
"They don't have to disclose that type of thing," Yates says.
"It is very concerning that we don't know what we're feeding our children," says Waldrop.
In the wake of the 'pink slime' controversy, local school districts are pulling it off menus. Mobile and Baldwin counties have joined the ranks of school districts across the country asking the USDA for a product that's only 100 percent beef, no filler.
"Baldwin County will participate with the Alabama State Department of Education in food services decisions that the state makes," says Terry Wilhite with Baldwin County Schools. "We'll be right there alongside everyone else."
The USDA has agreed to let school districts opt out of using products with LFTB starting this fall. Many beef manufacturers have also opted for labels that reveal the filler is an ingredient, but that labeling is still not legally required.
Those who work with our children's food every day say pink slime only raises more questions about what's really in the foods we eat.
"Who knows what else is in the products we're getting?" Yates says.
"We should be concerned because we need to know what we're eating," says Waldrop.
Experts say the move to get rid of pink slime in school lunches won't be cheap. One nutritionist we spoke with estimates eliminating LFTB will raise food costs for schools by about three percent.